Worshipping Ganesha as Ashtavinayaks

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Among the yatras or pilgrimage circuits, which our ancestors had established, the most famous is the Char Dham yatra (Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka and Rameshwaram). But there are many other smaller and shorter yatras comprising of several temples that are region specific or Deity-specific. One of them is the Ashtavinayak Yatra of Maharashtra, which involves the yatra of eight ancient Ganesha temples.
Image: https://www.tempolepurohit.com
Situated in villages and mountain tops around Pune in Maharashtra, these are at Morgaon (Moreshwar/Mayureshwar), Siddhatek (Siddhivinayak), Pali (Ballaleshwar), Mahad (Varadavinayak), Theur (Chintamani), Lenyadri (Girijatmaj), Ozhar (Vighneshwar) and Ranjangaon (Mahaganapati). The devout follow a traditional sequence, starting at Morgaon and returning there at the end after visiting the other seven temples in the order given above. However, due to constraints of time and resources, many just follow their own itinerary.
Chintamani Temple, Theur
Disclaimer: I have written this post with inputs from the internet, as well as personal descriptions from the younger son Vineet and his wife Swati, who undertake this yatra every year. Lord Ganesha, known by myriad names, has countless temples across the country. Worshipped by Hindus as the Primary Deity at the beginning of any puja or when starting a new venture, journey or undertaking any important work. While temples dedicated to other Deities are lavish and grand with exquisite finery adorning the Deity, Ganesha resides in the most humble of places, even under a peepal tree, satisfied with a few blades of the durva grass, to bless His devotees!
Resplendent even under a tree!
Maharashtra has many famous temples dedicated to Ganapati and He is a beloved Deity of the masses, being addressed endearingly as Ganpati Bappa. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with great devotion and fervour, both in homes and in community installations. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Ashtavinayak yatra is quite popular among the people of the state.
Singing the praises of Mahaganapati at Ranjhangaon
The mention of the Ashtavinayak temples can be found in Ganesha Purana and Mudgala Purana, an upapurana of Ganesha Purana. The legends of several of the temples in this yatra mention one or the other of the asuras being vanquished by either Ganesha Himself or by Shiva or Vishnu, the latter two having prayed to Ganesha at these places. I am giving a brief history, particularly of these temples. For detailed descriptions as well as for the legends associated with all the eight Ashtavinayak temples, please refer to the links here and here.
  • Morgaon: Moreshwar (Mayureshwar) – Lord Ganapati, riding on a peacock (Mayureshwar), is believed to have defeated the asura Sindhu here.
  • Siddhitek: Siddhivinayak – Lord Vishnu vanquished the asuras Madhu and Kaitabh after propitiating Vinayaka at this temple site.
  • Ozhar: Vighneshwar –Lord Ganesha defeated the asura Vighnasur at this place and in response to his plea that his name be added before that of the Lord, the Deity here is called Vighnahar or Vighneshwar.
  • Ranjhangaon: Mahaganapati – Lord Shiva is believed to have worshipped Ganesha here before fighting the asura Tripurasur.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudgala_Purana.
For the devout, there are granthas galore
The Ashtavinayak yatra is thankfully yet to become commercialised, with just the devout making the trip every year, some undertaking the journey in the prescribed order, others as per their convenience. The temples situated in small villages offer the bare minimum facilities, with the rusticity intact. By ‘rustic’ I mean the true rural ambience, not the ‘created’ one, disguising star comforts behind apparent rusticity—as in a hut that hides all the modern trappings once you enter it. So, there are no fancy restaurants in these places, with farmer shacks serving bhakri and its basic accompaniments made by the lady of the house to the yatris at a nominal cost. Mahaganapati temple in Ranjhangaon, being situated on a highway is perhaps the only temple that is a little commercialised. But even here, regular yatris recommend the prasad meal served at the temple for its divine wholesomeness.
Wholesome, fresh, home-cooked food at Siddhatek!
The Ashtavinayak temples are unique because they all have swambhu murtismurtis that have appeared on their own and not been made or installed. This is evident from the murtis themselves, which are not chiselled to perfection but are just basic forms of the Deity. What a glorious form Ganesha has! It lends itself to such wonderful art forms and can be created with just a few lines! No other form of a Deity has been created with as many materials as the one of Ganesha due to the distinctive and asymmetrical appearance.
Girijatmaj temple in the Lenyadri caves (Pic: https://scoutmytrip.com/)
Ganesha is the beloved of everyone–young and old. No wonder then, that when He is brought home on the even of Ganesh Chaturthi, there is overwhelming joy of welcoming a long lost family member. And when He leaves at the end of His sojourn in the devotee’s home, there are cries of ‘Ganapati Bappa Morya! Pudhchya varshi laukar ya!’–Come again soon next year! For a detailed Ashtavinayak yatra route and guide check out: https://scoutmytrip.com/blog/ashtavinayak-yatra/ All pics: (unless otherwise attributed) by Swati Maheshwari

11 comments

  1. Very interesting and illuminating. While in Mumbai in the late-1980s, during one Shravan I recall visiting Pen (about 80 km away, on Bombay-Goa road) to see hundreds of artisans crafting beautiful Ganapati idols with devotion and love. And a very large number of the artisans were (and I guess still are?) Muslims … truly, Ganesha the Remover of Obstacles effortlessly straddles puny human barriers of religion!

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    1. You are right. There are many Muslims engaged in the plying of not just Ganpati murtis, but also pooja items, especially in the south. If you happen to visit some big old temple in one of the cities there, you will find the shopkeepers telling you, ‘Ambalukku sivappu poo podungamma!’ or ‘Perumalukku tulasi malai vaangi podunga!’ and the uninitiated gratefully take their advice. It is so natural for Hindus to accept Muslims as co-cultural brethren that the Lipton’s ad on the even Ganapati came across as being mischievously communal. Did you see it? The ground realities are so very different from what these media and ad people portray.

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      1. thanks, heartening. i missed (gladly) this Lipton’s ad…how despicable it must be. We look to the light

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  2. Yes, the Ashtavinayak pilgrimage is very popular among Maharashtrians. For many Maharashtrian families, their Kul Deyvat (family deity) is often one of these Ashta Vinayaks.

    Great post! Very informative!

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    1. Thank you Manju. Appreciation from a Maharashtrian for the post means a lot! The yatra is still so full of devotional fervour, thanks to the yatra not being rampantly commercialised. There are region-specific yatras in the south too. Like the Arupadai veedu tour- which involves the six abodes of Kartikeya around TN. It is undertaken with great rigour and austerity by both men and women every year. There are so many more.

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  3. The simple yet deep faith is immensely touching. Thank you for this trip you took me to!

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    1. Thankfully from what I hear from the children, it is yet to become commercialised with all its unpleasant trappings. Sounds like my kind of yatra, but ufortunately mujhe abhi tak bulava nahi aaya hai! 😦

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  4. Interesting description about ashta vinayak yatra,
    Let’s plan together and do this yatra. Hey, another blog? Wow!

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    1. Yes, we should, shouldn’t we? After all the kids have done it so many times!

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  5. First time I have come to know about Ashta Vinayak Yatra. I hope this informative piece would inspire your young readers to undertake this yatra.

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    1. Thank you KP. Vineet has been undertaking this yatra for the last 6 or 7 years. Unfortunately I have not yet done it. The only temple in the circuit that I have seen is the last one – Mahaganapati temple in Ranjhangaon. Hope I get the Call soon!

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